"The power of the work is often in the individual and the changes in their horizons"

Q&A with Sarah Lovell, Lead Officer for Culture, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority
Content provided by Sarah Lovell
Edited by Tonya Anisimovich

We spoke with Sarah Lovell, Lead Officer for Culture at the Liverpool City Region (LCR) Combined Authority, who works within the Policy and Strategic Commissioning Directorate.

Sarah emphasised the critical value of arts in health partnerships to the health and wellbeing of the LCR’s residents and the importance of raising awareness about the benefits of this work and the expertise there is across Merseyside in developing and delivering such interventions. Sarah also has previous experience as a practitioner working within the art sector, involved with projects that used creative approaches to engage with vulnerable or isolated individuals and groups and so has seen the benefit directly of such interventions.

Q: How important are partnerships between cultural organisations and health and social care providers?

I think partnerships between cultural organisations and health and social care providers are critical, because of the role that arts and culture and creative activities can play, to support and improve mental health and wellbeing outcomes for individuals and communities. One of the things that creativity and cultural practice can do is bring people together in a group of interest, where people have shared experiences.

Credits: Wesley Storey

There’s a lot that health and social care providers can learn from artists and creatives and vice versa. It’s that joint partnership approach, where innovation and creativity can really help to support new ways of working and engaging with our residents. Here, in the Liverpool City region, we’ve got some excellent practice that’s been well established over many years. We’ve also got opportunities for new partnerships to be formed and sustained. It’s really critical that we find ways to join up that practice and build a network through sharing previous practice, learning, and passing those skills and information on. That way we can support new practice and projects sustainably and also raise the visibility of the work, because often a lot of this work goes under the radar. That’s partly the nature of the way in which practice has to happen. It’s done in a quiet, needs led way by the participants, but it’s such an important piece of work that so many people can learn from.

Q: What are the challenges to sustainable partnerships across sectors?

I think critically, the most challenging aspect of this work is funding and investment. We know that people-based therapies take time. Often a lot of the practice can be short term, and time limited, and when that part of the investment period is complete, there isn’t always a next amount of funding to support the next stage. That can be very challenging for both health and social care providers, and artists and cultural organisations, because nobody wants to do a parachute drop and suddenly stop and leave the participant, high and dry.

As an artist, you would also need to understand some of the issues within the referral process of working with people who have challenging mental health conditions, and to be supported by the health and social care providers. It can be quite a complex role, but the rewards are obviously where the engagement works well, where there is that support and where it’s able to be sustained, to the point at which the person or group on the receiving end is able to exit the programme feeling more confident or into a pathway into a next provision, further training or education, or even a job.

Credits: Wesley Storey

Other challenges can be around the measurement of the efficacy and the cost effectiveness of the programme. There is more emphasis now on social return on investment and cost benefit analysis. It’s really important that there is an agreed system by which that evidence base is going to be identified and utilized. WEMWBS (Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale) has been used quite extensively within this area of work, and they provide a measure that can be useful, transferable, and scalable. Case studies are really important as well. High quality case studies can often reveal the real impact and measurement of change and benefit to the participant. The other thing that can be a challenge sometimes is the focus on how we define quality of the engagement of the arts and creative practice. That’s something that has to again, be agreed and defined between the partnerships, and that helps to build and engender trust as well.

Q: What are the rewards to sustainable partnerships across sectors?

The rewards are when those ingredients work, people have clear expectations about what the programme is and what it can deliver, and both sides are involved in the evaluation, measurement, and support. Obviously for the participants themselves, for the people who’ve experienced successful programmes, the development in their own confidence and ability to then move on to other things can be life changing. I think the power of the work is often in the individual and the changes in their horizons on where they can then go on to next.

Credits: The Reader

Q: What advice would you give to arts providers seeking to work with the health and social care sector?

For anybody interested in this area of work, you do need to do a little bit of research and you also need to be realistic and understand things around the actual referral agencies and how they work. The first step is really seeking out and starting to build and develop relationships and identifying how you want to be involved.

We need to find ways in which we can create stronger networks and develop new partnerships and greater awareness of the talent and resources that we have. It’s important to explain that in a way that is easy and accessible for the health providers and the social care sector, for artists and arts organisations. There’s a bit of a mutual education and relationship building that needs to happen, but there is a lot of expertise and research out there. A resource such as LivCare, brings together some of that best practice, and demonstrates that through case studies, and a solid research and evidence base that will continue to be developed over time.

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